It seems like everywhere I go nowadays, there’s a food truck laying in wait somewhere along the way threatening to feed me all kinds of scrumptious vittles. Being based in Cincinnati, a foodie capital that’s filled with sensational restaurants, the rolling kitchen options available to my fat ass on any given day are nothing short of primo. Many a hard-earned dollar has been spent at these eateries over the years, and all I’ve gotten in return is a wider waistline and barbecue sauce on my favorite David Hasselhoff shirt.
But it’s all good, because unlike most of the hot dog carts out there, these culinary contraptions offer quite a wide variety of locally sourced free-range beef, artisanal cheeses, and organically grown greens. Long gone are the days of frozen Grade-D beef patties and intestine-turning tacos, as many of America’s culinary elite have decided to hit the road in order to bring us some top-shelf “meals on wheels.”
So if we were going to modify a vehicle into a rolling pizza party, or a burrito mobile on wheels, what would we build? Naturally, there are different budgets for different builds, and various vehicles are more prone to producing a certain dish than others, so perhaps a variety of different options for chefs on the roll is the best stance to take. Remember, it takes a lot more prep space in order to roast a whole hog or bake some pizzas, than it is to whip up some deli club sandwiches.
In order to keep it interesting, a lot of the humdrum box trucks that everyone tends to turn into rolling panini toasters on wheels have been omitted from this cheat sheet, along with vehicles that have already been pre-fabbed with industrial grade kitchen counters and whatnot. This required us to really think outside of the “box truck” and delve deeper into an unprecedented direction, and what we ended up with were seven sensational options that are guaranteed to deliver the goods when it comes time to chow down.
1. Ford Transit Full-Size Van
We begin with a tasty morsel from Ford, especially since the American manufacturer’s top non-F-series workhorse continues to wow critics and consumers alike with its versatility. With three available body lengths, two different wheelbases, and three roof heights, once converted to spec, most chefs would love to cook in a Transit Van.
This van is ideal for hardcore cooks as well, considering it has 487.3 cubic feet of cargo capacity and plenty of space for grills, prep stations, and fridges. It also has 81.5-inches of interior cargo height, so anyone under 6-foot-4 can comfortably stand upright in the cargo area to cook.
The Transit’s rear cargo doors swing open 270 degrees for loading and unloading, and there are countless configurations one can opt for straight from the dealer if racks, bins, or shelving units need to be installed. Ford’s monolithic sliding doors are also a nice touch, as it eliminates the need to prop-up an awning once the vehicle is parked.
Another reason this vehicle made it to the chopping block is due to all of the open real estate across the back of the van, as it gives food truck owners the ability to vinyl wrap the van with large banners or a menu for hungry onlookers waiting in line. Ford says a basic model starts at $29,735 and that in order to test reliability, “Transit durability test vehicles were driven more than 4.6 million miles, or far enough to circle the globe 185 times.”
2. Volkswagen Westfalia Bus
Not everyone has the capital to go big when it comes time to purchase a vehicle that can be converted into a culinary car. So for anyone wanting to get cooking on a shoestring budget, we recommend tracking down a Volkswagen Wesfalia Pop-Up Bus. If you peruse eBay you’ll find quite a few of these vans going for well under $15,000, and considering that these iconic little machines offer a surprising amount of cooking space, converting one over to a bonafide foodie mobile is easier than one might think.
Once the screened top is lifted, a full-grown adult has ample room to prep food or wash their hands in the German-engineered bus’ built-in sink, and hidden storage compartments can be found all over the place on later models. The attached awning also gives people the ability to cook outside, and we think this van would make a fantastic nomadic barbecue joint if a lightweight smoker could be trailered behind it and then pushed beneath the awning when it’s time to grill.
3. Ford F-450 Cutaway
I know it sounds a little far-fetched, but Ford actually gives people the ability to tailor-make this thing into a food truck on their website. Technically it isn’t really a food truck per se, since the automaker doesn’t give us the option to install sinks, a deep fryer, or refrigerators, but at least there’s a solid starting point.
These heavy duty trucks come with a lot of mandatory kitchen necessities, like ample amounts of headroom, along with a legion of storage bins that already come pre-installed. It showcases a duo of massive rear doors that are perfect for selling food out of during lunchtime.
Another nice feature on the Ford F-450 Cutaway is that it can be purchased with pre-installed back-up batteries, along with an air conditioning system designed to keep the cargo area cool when the orders start stacking up. External locking lockers also add value, and make for great stow spaces for disposable cutlery, plates, and back-up dry goods.
While the legality of utilizing something that at one point may have transported cadavers to the morgue remains a question for your local municipality, the value and availability of these vehicles makes for a very strong argument. Used models can be picked up all day long on eBay for under $20,000, and if everything on it electronically still works, we strongly suggest turning on the strobe lights and using the built-in megaphone to first grab attention, and then announce that day’s specials to hungry onlookers.
4. Freightliner Sprinter Crew Van
It may be a little pricey for some at $50,000, but once equipped with rear AC and heat, an extra auxiliary battery, and a slew of interior upgrades, the Freightliner Sprinter really has the potential to be a fantastic food truck. With its elongated cargo hold, 76.4 inches of standing room, and giant windows that let plenty of natural light into the vehicle, it’s no wonder that this van made it onto the list.
We would also be curious to see what it would take to make the rear glass windows prop up so that customers could have a tinted glass awning for which to stand beneath while waiting for their food. Another perk to this machine is its powertrain, because once outfitted with Mercedes-Benz’s 3.0-liter turbo diesel motor, owners are rewarded with a 7,500 pound towing capacity, making this van ideal for pulling things like a large pizza kiln, or a trailer laden with parasols and picnic tables.
5. Alexander-Dennis Enviro400 Tourist Bus
Let’s pretend for a moment that money is not a factor. There’s no need to work — you just invest in whatever sounds like it would be a good fit for that day, and go all-in. For all you venture capitalists out there who are hungry for a new adventure, allow us to introduce you to a food truck of imposing proportions.
Seating wise, the Enviro400 Tourist Bus by Alexander-Dennis features 51 seats on the upper deck, and 29 more chairs in the lower area, with plenty of room for servers to maneuver down the aisle like grounded airplane flight stewards. Once equipped with fold-out seatback tables, you can cruise, booze, and choose the best foods in America, all while getting a tour of a city.
Personally, we would scrap the lower deck’s seating and put in a big-ass kitchen that has a bar and a carry-out window attached to it. That way an ample amount of room could be opened up at the base of the stairwell for a hostess stand/cashier station, and the massive windows would be able to give curious onlookers the ability to watch chefs prepare various dishes at street level.
Another perk to this machine is that the lower deck comes standard with air conditioning, so chefs can stay cool when the heat is on. Meanwhile, back up top, we suggest ditching the tour bus seats for custom benches along the perimeter and installing anchored chairs and tables in the center. Toss a few parasols into the mix, along with a craft beer bar, a designated drop-spot for when it’s time to dine, and some romantic lighting, and you now have the ultimate mobile date night.
6. Nissan NV2500 Cargo
Our final van comes to us courtesy of Nissan, with its V8-powered, 8,700-pound towing, high-roofed tank of a taco cart. This van features things like a full-width overhead storage console and eight exterior roof rack-mounting points for when it’s time to bring extras for a festival.
It also has 120-volt electrical plugs in the front and rear of the cabin that can offer up to 400-watts of usable power a piece, and comes with a gargantuan center console that houses a locking storage compartment that can double as a safe. But perhaps our favorite feature on this van (and something that we haven’t seen anywhere else) is the fold-down front passenger seat, which can be easily turned into a desk space. Starting at just $29,650 for the high-roof version, the NV2500 is also surprisingly inexpensive, and with America’s best commercial van warranty covering you for five years or 100,000 miles, there’s a lot of piece of mind associated with opting for this machine.
7. Vespa Ape
We wrap things up with something that’s equal parts old school, obscure, and utterly adorable. When I first stumbled upon Urbana Cafe at the local farmers market here in Cincinnati, I was immediately enamored with the ingenuity that went into making this espresso machine on wheels work.
From its hand-laid tabletop to the integrated espresso machines and pop-up parasol, this inner-city coffee machine to go is a huge hit here in the local community. Maybe with a little luck, this idea will inspire people to track down a few Vespa Apes in other areas and turn them it into their own mini culinary delight trikes, with a cooler-equipped rolling sushi bar being the first thing that comes to mind.